Hearing to address ongoing bottling plant litigation

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A Flathead County District Court Judge will consider a motion for summary judgment during a hearing Tuesday morning in ongoing litigation regarding the operation of a contested bottling plant in Creston.

In September 2018, Yes! For Flathead Farms and Water, a local nonprofit advocacy group, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Egan Slough Community, accusing the county commissioners, other county departments and the Montana Artesian Water Co. of ignoring the rules of the expanded Egan Slough Zoning District.

In June 2018 a ballot measure expanding the Egan Slough Zoning District to encompass the bottling facility property passed with 70% voter support. The district places strict regulations on commercial and industrial operations, which opponents of the plant hoped would bring bottling to a standstill.

But in May this year, Judge Robert Allison heard oral arguments regarding the ballot initiative after the measure’s legality was challenged. At the time, a legal representative for the defendants argued that the pool of individuals possibly impacted by the plant’s operations is much smaller than the 17,579 voters who approved the initiative. However, Judge Allison ultimately ruled the initiative is legal and that the issue is one of interest to the entire Flathead County electorate.

In his decision, Allison wrote, “because there are these county-wide interests, the electorate voting on an initiative consists of county-wide voters, not exclusively voters residing in the proposed zoning district.”

In a separate legal dispute, several complaints against Montana Artesian filed last summer, alleging the company was violating its new zoning regulations by continuing operations, prompted the county Planning Office to launch an investigation. That investigation wrapped up in January and concluded the plant is actually grandfathered in — a finding that allowed the facility to continue its permitted operations despite regulations imposed by the Egan Slough Zoning District.

Now, at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Judge Allison will hear arguments for a motion for summary judgment, or in other words, a request for the court to rule that the other party has no case, because there are no facts at issue.

According to a social media post from Yes! For Flathead Farms and Water, the group’s attorneys will “be presenting Summary Judgment arguments and asking the Judge make a final ruling declaring that Flathead County must enforce the Egan Slough Zoning regulations and to find that the Montana Artesian water operation is not a legal pre-existing nonconforming use under those regulations.”

According to the post, the attorneys will argue that the county’s decision to allow Montana Artesian to begin operating after the initiative passed last summer was “unlawful and an abuse of discretion.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 748-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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